On October 14, 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre read in Le Figaro littéraire that the Swedish Academy had him lined up for that year’s prize. In fact, the official announcement was not due to be made until the following week; but however it came about, the prediction proved to be accurate. Sartre declined the honor immediately, and with genuine courtesy. He first wrote personally to the secretary of the Academy—”I cannot and do not want to, not in 1964 or ever, accept this great distinction”—and then dictated a statement to a Swedish journalist, in which he said that he had always turned down “official distinctions” in the past, out of a conviction that “the writer must not allow himself to be transformed by institutions.” Sartre had previously declined the highest official accolade his country could bestow on him, the Légion d’honneur (it is a mystery why this committed anti-establishment radical was offered it), as well as a professorial chair at the Collège de France. His refusal of the Nobel, he said, was not “an improvised act,” but the result of a thought-out position on honors and awards. Here was idealism in action, surely, of which even Nobel might have approved? Sartre was turning down a fortune, and modestly putting forward a high-minded reason for doing so. He simply wished to remain free. The Swedish Academy could not see things his way, however. It responded through tight lips—”The fact that he is declining does not alter in the least the validity of the nomination”—and went ahead with the prize-giving ceremony.
North Vietnamese Le Duc Tho was awarded the Nobel for Peace along with Henry Kissinger for their peace efforts in 1973, but he turned it down “until peace was truly established.”